Microsoft Maneuvers to Take Down JPEG

Microsoft plans to submit a new photo format to an international standards group that it claims offers the highest quality images available with improved compression techniques.

The format, dubbed “HD Photo” — formerly called “Windows Media Photo” — is taking aim at the JPEG format, a 15-year old technology that is still the most popular format used in digital cameras and image applications.

The name “JPEG” is an acronym for Joint Photographic Experts Group, the committee that created the standard.

Redmond made the announcement at the Photo Marketing Association trade show in Las Vegas.

Capturing Better Images

While the formats operate in the same manner — capturing images and compressing them in order to reduce file sizes so more photos can fit on a memory card — the quality of the photo tends to lessen during the compression process.

Microsoft claims its new HD Photo format allows digital photographers to capture and transmit high-quality image files half the size of image files created using the JPEG standard. The company also says the HD Photo process results in fewer unwanted visual artifacts in digital images than JPEG.

“With HD Photo, we’re taking a new approach to creating and editing photos that simply isn’t available to photographers with today’s formats,” said Amir Majidimehr, corporate vice president of the Consumer Media Technology Group at Microsoft. “HD Photo fully preserves the original image fidelity with high dynamic range, while still allowing for significant improvement in compression size.”

Photo Support

Microsoft says HD Photo employs a much lighter algorithm that causes less damage to photos and allows for higher-quality images that are half the size of JPEG files.

HD Photo support is currently built into Vista, Microsoft’s new operating system. In the future, Microsoft Office and Internet Explorer will also support the format.

Lossless and Lossy

The HD Photo format can also accommodate “lossless” and “lossy” compression, two methods of compressing photo data that produce different effects on image quality, Majidimehr said.

Adjustments can be made to color balance and exposure settings that won’t discard or truncate data that occurs with other bitmap formats, according to the company.

Standard Operating Procedure

The HD Photo move — pushing fast and hard for an early adoption standard — is a prototypical Microsoft maneuver, Mukul Krishna, an analyst with Frost & Sullivan, told TechNewsWorld.

“They are trying to get leverage in this potentially huge market,” he said.

Microsoft would be wise to make the software an open standard, Krishna noted, adding that users should be concerned “if it is a closed and proprietary format.”

If they keep it a proprietary format, they will have a fight on their hands,” Krishna predicted. “They don’t want another fight.”

Keeping Pace?

Although JPEG is ancient by tech standards, it has been modified to keep it up to date, Krishna pointed out.

In fact, the latest JPEG 2000 format features improved image quality and supports lossless and lossy compression. JPEG originally supported only lossy.

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